How important is Salomon Rondon to West Brom’s hopes of survival this season?
After West Brom only just managed to avoid being dragged into a relegation battle last season, Tony Pulis’ job has been widely known to be under increased scrutiny over the summer months.
Finishing down in 14th, only six points clear of relegation after a run of nine league matches without a win dating back to March, Pulis was one of the early favourites in the race for the sack before Christmas.
Contrary to pre-season expectations, however, West Brom have taken many people by surprise in the opening seven games of the Premier League campaign, laying the foundations for the months ahead with a solid start which included the dismantling of West Ham at the Hawthorns.
Results such as this, allied with an opening day win at Crystal Palace and draws against Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Stoke, see West Brom sitting in the top half of the table ahead of Southampton and last season’s champions Leicester City.
Much of West Brom’s joy so far this season can be attributed to their Venezuelan striker, Salomon Rondon, who’s arguably been playing his best football in a West Brom shirt since his £12 million move from Russian outfit Zenit St Petersburg in 2015.
Rondon has scored three times in seven league games, including a match-winning goal against Crystal Palace and a late, late equaliser away from home against Stoke. Without these goals, West Brom would be down in 14th, and Pulis would be on the brink.
This being said, the Baggies do have more arduous fixtures to come with dates against Tottenham, Liverpool and league leaders Manchester City upcoming over the next three weeks. Despite their good start, it’s these games that will be the real test of how far Pulis’ side have come since last year, and a test of Rondon’s credentials against stronger defensive lines.
With key men Stéphane Sességnon and forward Victor Anichebe both being shown the exit door at the Hawthorns over the summer, and Saido Berahino’s future terminally in doubt, the responsibility in front of goal is now very much on the shoulders of the Venezuelan Rondon.
Since his move from Russian giants Zenit last year, Rondon has been a point of frustration for West Brom fans – despite showing glimpses of his potential, his consistency has never quite been there, and that could be why the club were languishing so close to the relegation spots last May.
This promise seems to be coming out in full flourish this season, however, and West Brom fans are finally starting to see some sustained form and a clinical edge in front of goal that they have been lacking for the last few years.
Rondon is a proven goal-scorer, scoring once every three games for Malaga and Rubin Kazan during his respective spells, and netting 20 goals in his only season at Zenit – he had a slow season to life in England last year, only finding the back of the net nine times in the league, but his first two months of this season shows that he’s getting closer to his form from when he was playing abroad.
His recent run of form hasn’t just been at club level either, it’s extended to international level for Venezuela; he contributed a man of the match performance in their commendable 2-2 draw against a strong Argentina side back last month, showing a good turn of pace on the wing to drive past two defenders before slotting the ball back for Josef Martinez to turn home.
Rondon, who won his 50th international cap during the summer’s Copa América, has scored 18 times in 56 games for La Vinotinto.
The important thing for Rondon now is to push on from his impressive start to the campaign, and aim to consolidate the Baggies mid-table position over the winter months. With him and Nacer Chadli, the Baggies have two of the most in-form Premier League players in their ranks – and with tough games coming thick and fast over the next month, these two will be pivotal in keeping West Brom away from the bottom of the table.
Rondon, Pulis and West Brom are teetering on a knife edge at present; one bad month and it could be all over for the ex-Stoke boss – but for now, things are looking a little brighter at the Hawthorns.
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